Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Brave New Boobs: A Post for the League of Maternal Justic

Last week, I taught Brave New World in my graduate seminar. You've probably read the novel--maybe you studied it in high school, or read it during your angst and cynicism phase. It opens, you will recall, with a disorienting and powerful scene, a tour of newly graduated junior professionals on a tour of their future workplace. As the chapter proceeds, it dawns on us that what they are touring is a factory that makes babies, concocting them in tubes, gestating them in bottles, and 'decanting' them into large peer groups raised 'scientifically' by professionals.

The nuclear family has been abolished, and even the idea of 'viviparous' reproduction sends shudders of titillated revulsion through all who so much as contemplate it. 'Mother' has become a swear word, a particularly smutty taboo utterance.

In the brave new world of the novel, hypercapitalism and rampant promiscuity are the guarantors of the economy and political stability respectively. "Everyone belongs to every one else" is the motto governing sexual behaviour, but this general sexual license has been totally and completely evacuated of its reproductive function: no mention, of course, is made of what might be done to the men of this world, but it is made clear that the vast majority of women have been sterilized even before birth, and that those who haven't are rigorously protected from pregnancy. The idea is that to have every sexual desire sated at the very moment of its awakening is to cut short the potential for strong passion--strong passion that might be directed, in its frustration, to ends more political than libidinal.

To sum up the lesson so far: in this projected future, sexual titillation and license is the norm, and the reproductive consequences of this act have been forcefully denied, both chemically (sterilization) and culturally (the creation of taboo against mothering). It is a sign of orthodoxy and good behaviour in a woman to make herself sexually available to anyone who asks, and an unforgiveable, even disgusting, fall from grace to become pregnant or to carry a child to term.

How startled I was to hear echoes of Huxley's dystopian vision in Bill Maher's insane proclamations about what kinds of boobs are acceptable for public viewing! How amazed I was to hear that Facebook has been labelling 'obscene' users who post pictures of themselves feeding their infants, deleting photos and cancelling accounts. My surprise soon gave way to a kind of strangled, helpless anger. It seems so obvious, doesn't it, that breasts are for feeding infants? That mammals--that category of animals in which humans are classified--are in fact defined by this very trait, this capacity to produce milk for offspring born small and helpless and very very hungry? When the League of Maternal Justice offered buttons, I put one up. Now they're asking for my boobs, and I offer them gladly:

Here I am, nursing Miss Baby (and apparently, rocking out) at a crowded, privately-run waterpark in my city last July. Miss Baby was 7 weeks old. She subsisted on nothing but breastmilk from early June, when she was born, until early December, when she turned six months old. In that time I breastfed her: at home; in three different shopping mall food courts, benches, and parking lots; in the breastfeeding room at Sears; at Movies for Mommies; in the park, on a bench next to the jogging trail; in my husband's office; in my office; at my sister's workplace; at my parents' house and the houses of various friends; on two airplanes, to and from Edmonton; in the local coffeshop/restaurant; in a local pub, on the patio.

She was eating anywhere from every 45 minutes to every three hours. I fed her in public because otherwise I would have never been able to leave the house, and I felt trapped enough, isolated and alienated enough, without that extra burden. I fed her shamelessly and happily: she was hungry, it was easy to feed her, and for GOD'S SAKE, THEY'RE JUST BOOBS. I never put a blanket over her head, because it was awkward and uncomfortable, and because she was a nibbler and a sprayer, and it was, all in all, much more discreet to just keep my eye on her.

I nursed Miss Baby until she was nearly 11 months old. It broke my heart to stop, to no longer feel her little nibble-nibble, to no longer be able to comfort her and feed her with just my own body, to no longer have that biological feedback cycle that keyed my milk production to her need, her desire. Too 'obscene' for you Facebook? Too icky for you Bill Maher? That's your hangup, not mine. I only wish I had more photos, more videos, to commemorate that special relationship.

Babies need to eat. And boobs were made for feeding babies. Anyone who wants to believe that breasts are only for the visual consumption of adult males? Maybe they should just stay home. They're offending me.


slouching mom said...

Bravo! You said it, sister.
(Love the photo, too.)

ewe are here said...

Yes! Maybe the Bill Mahers of the world should just stay home if they can't stomach what nature intended.

Great post.

Beck said...

Great picture.
I've run into a few people who thought breastfeeding was something best saved for private - and they were all other women. It's very, very odd.

Bon said...

sing it, Mimi!

i posted very similar sentiments over at my place last night, except with no literary references, a much less cool picture, and more profanity. but this was what i wanted to say...cause Maher and crew are offending me too. and scaring me.

Mad Hatter said...

I love the Brave New World tie-in. I hope you made the breastfeeding connection for you class.

cinnamon gurl said...

Brilliant! And I love the pic!!

Jenifer said...

This was a lot chugging around in your mind!

The whole thing is nonsense. We are mammals, boobs represent a food source. I honestly think he CANNOT be that stupid can he? I mean he just likes seeing name out there right?

nomotherearth said...

That's the coolest BF pic I've seen so far. You rock! And so does your post.

kittenpie said...

Oh, great comparison, Mimi. I love it.

It seems extra strange in Ontario, where women are legally permitted to go topless anywhere, any time. It would seem like we had gotten over it. Sadly, maybe not.

Denguy said...

When we took our babies on a plane (back when they were babies) the flight attendent actually recommended breast-feeding the kids to help them relax during the flight.

Denguy said...

Oh, and I almost forgot, rock on!

crazymumma said...

I need to reread Brave New World.It has been so damn long.

And,like you, and so many others, cannot believe that this is even an issue.

Love the picture of you rock and roll breastfeeding.

ps. I just linked you over at my place. Your comment inspired post out of me...

Kyla said...

I love that photo, so much. And this was wonderful. You said it all so well.

Lisa b said...

oh she looks so sweet in that photo.
I love them all curled up like that.